For quite some time now, the United States has been known to have a gender gap in earnings, that is, men make more money than women, whether they hold the same position or not. Using data from the United States Census Bureau, the 2009 (most recent available) median income for men was $47,127 for men, compared to $36,278 for women. This leaves a ratio of .77 men-to-women earnings. While this data does not show that men make the more money than women in the same position, it can be generalized to say that men are likely to be more financially well-off then women. And while the gap is closing, from 60.2% in 1980 to 71.6% in 1990 to 77.0%, the rate at which the gap is closing is slowing down (United States Census Bureau).
Explaining The Gender Pay Gap
According to a book by Alice Eagly, Through The Labyrinth, this large gap in wages between men and women can partially be explained due to differences in education, hours worked, work experience, and occupation. There is also an unexplained variable that I will elaborate on later. Even after accounting for ” similar demographic characteristics, family situations, work hours, and work experience”, women will only make 81.5% of what men will make. That is to say when a man makes $100,000 a year, a women in the same city with the same education doing the same job will only make $81,500. The rest of this gender pay gap, 18.5%, is unexplained and unaccounted for by the United States Census Bureau.
Sources of The Unexplained Gender Gap
While the government does not formal explain where the 18.5% of unaccounted gender income disparity comes from, others have their own theories. Some blame occupational segregation, which is where some jobs and industries are predominantly ran by men, such as truck driving. Thus it can be harder for women to enter these job markets, and when they do, they are discriminated against and paid less. Another form of job stereo typing is the idea of “Pink Collar” jobs, which are jobs that usually done by women such as a maid, nurse or other jobs that could possibly be devalued by men and the rest of society. Finally, in the book called, Women Don’t Ask: Negoiation and the Gender Divide, it was found that women were eight times less likely than men to negotiate starting salaries when graduating business school (MBA). Linda Babcock, the author of the aforementioned book also said the following,
In surveys, more than twice as many women than men said they felt “a great deal of apprehension” about negotiating.
Babcock also found that Men usually obtained higher returns when they negotiated with potential employers than did women when they negotiated with employers.
What Would Rawls Say?
In my opinion, the philosopher John Rawls would most likely be appalled by the income disparity between men and women, citing a popular line “Justice as Fairness” from his famous book, A Theory of Justice. Rawl’s second principle of justice could most effectively be applied to this topic because women have an unfair and unequal opportunity in the workplace, which is an exact violation of his second principle of justice which is:
Social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that (a) they are to be of the greatest benefit to the least-advantaged members of society (the difference principle) and (b) offices and positions must be open to everyone under conditions of fair equality of opportunity.
(Rawls, 1971, p.303; revised edition, p. 47)
The only case where Rawls would accept the income disparity between men and women is where the inequalities for women (of the greatest disadvantage) would actually benefit them. An example of this would be the maternity leave and flexibility that some jobs offer women to take time off to care for their family. It offers disadvantaged women a non-monetary way be compensated and levels the playing field against men. This example could be used as a consequence as to why Rawls may indeed be ok with the income gap. Although, if it were proved that women do not receive the greatest benefit from these economic inequalities, then it could be said that Rawls’ theory would be inapplicable to this situation and/or go against it.
While it may seem unfair (and unequal) that men will make more than women under the same conditions, is the gender income gap an application of Rawl’s second principle of justice? If not, what condition would need to be met to make it so?